Women in the Workforce
While Kates entrance into the workforce may have been an early hardship for an Irish girl still in her teens it was a godsend for the working women of America. Thanks to the popularity of the detachable collar so favored by men from middle-class families, Troy had become the manufacturing center of ninety percent of the collars, cuffs and the white starched shirts sold throughout America and the world. However, to keep this economic engine booming in Troy, the manufacturers and the many related businesses needed to hire over 3,000 women.
Kates venture into the workforce began quickly as she found employment in one of the commercial laundries. Working 12 to 14 hours a day with hands immersed in boiling water and such bleaching agents as chloride of soda and diluted sulfuric acid, Kate and the other girls earned only 3 to 4 dollars a week. Even in the 1860s this was considered sweatshop conditions and, as faster starching machines were introduced into the laundries, health and safety hazards increased as many of the girls were badly burned.
Joining a Union
True to her Irish heritage Kate Mullaney could no longer stand idly by and watch her fellow workers be subjected to inhumane treatment. Knowing full well the benefits and conditions that the men of Troy who joined the Iron Moulders Union had won for the many area foundry workers, Kate set her mind to try and organize the laundry workers. In February of 1864 with almost 300 other women Kate announced the formation of the Collar Laundry Union - the first female union in the country.
Before the ink was fully dry on the new union charter, Kate led a strike against the 14 commercial laundries in the city demanding wage increases and attention to the womens concern of safety. Within a week the owners acceded to the Union demands and, a mere two years later in 1866, Collar Laundry Union members had increased their members' wages to 14 dollars a week.
Kate went on to play a sterling role in organized labor. At the 1868 convention of the National Labor Union in New York City she was appointed assistant secretary and national organizer for women - the first woman ever appointed to a national labor union office.
Kate Mullaney died on August 17, 1906 and was buried in Troys St. Peters Cemetery. For many years she lay in an unmarked grave until 1999 when several local labor leaders and Irish organizations were successful in raising enough money to mark the final resting place of a great woman and a true role model for women in organized labor.